How Does Pastoral Care Happen?
The bottom line principal of biblical pastoral care is that it is the ministry of every member of the church, rather than of only a select few within the church. Every Christian is to love one another. Until every member sees this as their responsibility the church will not be effective or faithful in pastoral care. Although pastoral care is not restricted to specific times, places and people, some structure is helpful to facilitate the ministry.
Formal Pastoral Care
- Fellowship Groups: Meeting mid-week in smaller groups to study the Bible and pray together creates the ideal environment for people to share their struggles within a smaller, safer and more intimate setting. Continuously meeting with the same people helps to foster deeper friendships than is possible on a Sunday. Encouraging as many people into small groups as possible is our primary strategy for pastoral care. Obviously not everyone is able to attend mid-week groups for various reasons. These folk could still be connected to a group who could share the responsibility of visiting and praying for those people.
- Pastoral Care Team: A pastoral care team does a fine job of keeping an eye on those who are going through especially trying circumstances or who may be slipping through the cracks of the fellowship groups. They do not exist to do the work of pastoral care on behalf of the congregation but together with the congregation to make sure that everyone is properly cared for.
- Sunday Services: The weekly gathering every Lord’s Day presents an ideal time to pastorally care for one another. Before and after the formal part of the service we encourage folk to share a cuppa together, to find out how they are doing, praying for each other, talk about the Word we’ve just heard together, and encouraging each other in the faith.
- The Pastor and Elders: Although the elders are specifically set apart for “pastoral ministry”, and not “pastoral care” in the sense that we have defined it here, they are nevertheless available to offer prayer and biblical counsel when needed. Everyone in the church should feel free to be in touch with the elders whenever this is needed.
Informal Pastoral Care
In addition to these there are many other ways in which pastoral care can happen. A card delivered, a phone call or a text message, praying for each other, meeting up for a coffee during the week, an invitation for a meal, helping with a practical act of service are just some of the ways we can show love for others.
Finally it is important to note that some people in the church will be particularly gifted in the area of pastoral ministry. It is important to acknowledge these gifts, train them up and to encourage them as valuable ministries within the church. Furthermore, the elders should seek to equip every member of the church to do this work through their teaching, example and leadership.
Hopefully this has helped to clarify what we mean when we are talking about pastoral care. It does not mean the pastoral ministry that is the role of the eldership but the “love-one-anothering” that is the responsibility of the whole church.
If we are going to become the sort of churches who continue to effectively care for their members then we need each member to do his or her work until the body of Christ is built up.